Your six week old baby cries for hours on end. You swaddle him. You rock him. You try and nurse him … nothing seems to work. You’ve heard about different treatments that apparently relieve the baby’s pain but you’re not quite sure how they work. With the help of Robert Harris and Alix McLaughlin, registered massage therapists and co-directors of The Cranial Therapy Centre in Toronto, we’ll take a close look at one of these treatments, Craniosacral Therapy, a unique and gentle hands-on therapy for the relief of pain and dysfunctions.
Craniosacral Therapy treats conditions like colic, developmental delays, spasticity, stress, migraines, allergies, vertigo, whiplash, dyslexia, hyperactivity, chronic ear infections and strabismus through normalizing the environment of the brain and spinal cord and soft tissues. It uses the movement of the craniosacral rhythm, (a subtle movement that is produced in the head and felt on the head and whole body), to feel where there has been a loss, change or distortion to the normal patterns of motion. Craniosacral Therapy then attempts to release the restrictions and tension patterns, thereby easing the pain or dysfunction.
In the case of colic, Harris and McLaughlin, (a husband and wife team) explain that it is often irritation or unusual pressure on the vagus nerve that causes this painful dysfunction. (Other potential sources include food sensitivity, an immature digestive tract, nursing mother’s diet, etc.) The vagus nerve is responsible for the proper functioning of the stomach, liver, pancreas, small intestine, spleen, heart, lungs, and part of the large intestine. This important cranial nerve is vulnerable where it exits the skull. The angled, bevelled joint shape (between the base of the skull and first vertebrae of the spinal column) makes the joint complex susceptible to jamming or wedging. Strain or trauma to this function may be caused by things like the position and length of labour, actual delivery, use of forceps or post-natal handling of the child. Whatever the source, joint and soft tissue restrictions cause unusual pressures. These may possibly affect the vagus nerve or its other exit point companions (the jugular vein and other cranial nerves), resulting in a child displaying signs of colic as well as things like weak sucking, projectile vomiting, headaches or irritability.
At the Centre, a colicky child may obtain relief through gentle hands-on treatment techniques. These techniques focus on regaining soft tissue elasticity or compliability and restoring normal motion to the craniosacral system (the fluid tight sac environment of the brain and spinal chord and the bones of the head and sacrum).
To new parents, Harris and McLaughlin offer these helpful hints on the handling of your new babies. Always provide complete head support when holding a newborn or infant. In the event your baby’s head flops backwards, help to counteract force by gently cradling the baby and gradually stretching and elongating his back and neck muscles as the chin slightly tucks in. And if your child is colicky, you will notice that he will arch his back when crying. Although this is a reflex action, it actually worsens the symptoms, further jamming the whole complex. To help, relax the strained nerves, gradually stretch and hold the child in a fetal curl.
If you’re a parent of an infant who cries (and cries and cries….) don’t despair. The Cranial Therapy Centre may be able to lend you a gentle helping hand.